Quest of the Sapphire | A.E. Smith

Quest of the Sapphire

The following is an excerpt from Quest of the Sapphire by A. E. Smith. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.

Road to Jerusalem, a Farewell Letter, and Arrow the Horse
Marcus Clovius Longinus, known as Marco by his family, wanted to be a hero even though he had no specific plan, no idea of what it would cost him, or how many people it would hurt. He thought about telling his twin brother of his search for adventure, but Aquila would undoubtedly demand to go with him. Also, if Marco found success, would it be due to his efforts, or his brother’s? Would others assume it was Aquila who had solved all the difficulties? Would Aquila take command as he often did? Marco could not take that risk. If he was to prove himself, he had to go alone.

Marco, a Roman teenager living in the 1st century A.D., was the youngest son of Adan and Dulcibella Longinus. His father, Centurion Adan Clovius Longinus, was famous. He was the centurion who came back from the dead after five thousand soldiers witnessed his and fifteen legionaries’ executions. King Herod was forced by Roman law to execute them when Simon Peter escaped from their custody, even though he suspected Felix Valentius orchestrated the “escape” to instigate the execution of sixteen of his enemies. Adan Longinus testified that an angel escorted Peter from their custody, but that made no difference. The sentences of death were carried out. There was a reasonable explanation as to how Adan survived his execution, but for most of the soldiers who saw him months later, very much alive, their superstitions were confirmed. Centurion Longinus, having the dark-ringed amber eyes of a wolf, must be a lupus versipellis, a werewolf. The twins had the same wolf-like eyes as their father, which led some to the same superstitious conclusion about them.

Aquila, the older son by nineteen minutes, concentrated on explanations of natural wonders, inventions, and solutions to observable problems. Marco concentrated on the unjust customs of the times, daydreamed of rescuing hapless victims, and battling enemies he conjured in his imagination. The twins’ drastically different personalities were an ironic contradiction to their identical appearance. Aquila set his mind on becoming a successful inventor. Marco set his heart on saving the world.

Marco lit a candle with an ember from the fireplace in the main room of their cottage. It was once the guest house for his grandparents’ villa but was converted to his parents’ home when they wed. The house was perched on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea near Caesarea on the coast of Samaria. It was the only place he had ever lived. He dreaded how his parents would react when they discovered his absence. They would worry and, most likely, be angry with him.

Marco read the letter he had written for his parents one last time.

“Father, Mother, I had to leave. Now that I am seventeen and of age, I must follow my heart and discover God’s plan for me. I have been thinking of this venture a long time and waiting for the right opportunity. Please do not worry about me. You have always taught me to trust in God and go where the Spirit leads me, so that’s what I’m doing. Father, please do not follow me. Tell my sister, Longina, and Aquila, especially, that I will miss them. Tell Grandmother Iovita and Grandfather Marcus that I will miss them, too. Tell Uncle Niko, Aunt Marina, Adriana and Titus that I will miss them as well. Please tell Aquila I am sorry I couldn’t take him with me. It would be too cruel for both of us to leave you. I will return when I have accomplished my mission—whatever that may be. Pray for me. Your son, Marco.”

He blew out the candle and started for the front door. A noise from Aquila’s bedroom stopped him. “Aquila,” he hissed, “are you awake?” He padded softly back to his brother’s doorway. He stood and waited but there was only silence. He turned and walked back to the front door. Just for a moment, Marco hesitated. He wanted to tell his brother what he was doing but his pride held him back. He had to do this alone or it would be meaningless. Aquila was always helping him out of one mess or another. For once, he was going to prove to the family—and himself—that he could accomplish something significant on his own.

Marco walked down the path to his grandparents’ villa and entered through the kitchen door. He made his way in the darkness to the main hall and put the letter on the table next to his mother’s favorite chair, and he started for the front door. He had thought about slipping the letter under his parents’ bedroom door, but Aquila often woke them in the morning if they overslept. Marco didn’t want him to find the letter. He might hide it or even destroy it out of spite for being left behind.

Guilt twisted in Marco’s heart. Today was his and Aquila’s seventeenth birthday. Celebrations were planned, but he had to act now due to uncontrollable circumstances. The opportunity to travel with an armed guard and the merchant who hired them was too good to pass up. He paused, retraced his steps, and reached for the letter. The sudden desire to tear it into shreds almost overwhelmed him, but he stayed his hand. He had to trust in his own determination and courage. He blew out the candle and waited until his eyes adjusted to the soft darkness of the moonlit night.

Marco slung his knapsack over his shoulder and slipped out into the night. Outside of the barn, he lowered the knapsack and checked the contents one last time. He had extra clothes, the obsidian razor his father gave him, a small copper disc for a mirror, and a blanket. Romans prided themselves on being clean-shaven with short-cropped hair so he wanted to keep up his best appearance. He counted the bronze, copper, and silver coins in his coin pouch. He only had a few, but he planned to find work along the way. Satisfied he had everything necessary, he crept into the barn and saddled one of the pack horses. His own horse snorted disapproval. Marco went to his horse’s stall and rubbed a hand along the jet-black Friesian’s neck.

“I’m sorry Wingshadow. You can’t go with me. I’ll be back. I promise. Father will take good care of you. I’ll miss you, but you’ll be safer here than with me.”

Wingshadow stomped a hoof, backed away from Marco, and flattened her ears back against her head. The horse let out a high-pitched squeal as if she were trying to raise an alarm.

Marco waved his hand defensively. “No, Wingshadow! You’ll wake everyone up. I know you don’t understand why I’m leaving you, but it’s too dangerous. Someone will try to steal you for sure. No one will look twice at the pack horse—or me.”

Wingshadow moved forward until her chest pressed against the railing of her stall. She extended her head as if inviting Marco to rub her forehead. Marco placed his hands on the sides of the horse’s head and looked into her eyes.

“Maybe you do understand,” whispered Marco. “It is because I love you that I don’t take you with me. Blackfire would never forgive me if something bad happened to you, since you’re his daughter and all. Blackfire may be an old horse, but he still has heart. He would grieve if I took you away from him.”

In the stall next to Wingshadow, Blackfire shifted to face Marco. He nickered low in his chest and tossed his head.

“See? Your father agrees with me. You need to stay here.” Marco sighed. He knew he was projecting his own feelings about the grief he was about to cause his father and the whole family. “There’s another reason you must stay here. They will know that I’ll come back if you’re still here.” This time it was Wingshadow that nickered a deep-throated rumble of acceptance.

Marco rubbed the horse’s neck and patted her shoulder. “I’ll be back.” He left Wingshadow’s stall and led the old pack horse through the doors and closed them softly. Wingshadow turned toward the door with her ears stiff and facing forward, alert for the sound of Marco’s voice. When there was only silence, the horse turned away and went back to sleep.

The moon was full and lit his way as Marco left the Cornelius estate behind. He wasn’t even sure that his travel plans would work. He tried to think of an alternate plan as he rode down the switchbacks of the cliff road, but nothing came to mind. He would need to follow the shore of the Mediterranean Sea until he reached the Ocean View Inn. His hope was to join a cloth merchant he had met at the inn. Marco knew that traveling alone would be suicidal. Overhearing the travel plans of the merchant presented the opportunity he couldn’t pass up. The merchant was on his way back to Jerusalem, which Marco thought was as good a place as any. His father and Aquila would most certainly try to find him, but they wouldn’t know what direction he had taken. Marco hoped they would think he had gone somewhere other than Jerusalem since the city was in a constant state of agitation between the occupying Romans and the resident Jewish population.

The first few hours of daylight would be the most critical for Marco’s success. As a centurion at the garrison in Caesarea, Adan Longinus would be able to order his men to search for his son in all directions. However, Marco hoped that his many hours of lead time would enable him to avoid the soldiers and his father. He winced at the thought of how humiliating it would be if he were found quickly and dragged back home. He wished he could think of some type of disguise, but decided that if God was on his side, he would succeed in making it all the way to Jerusalem. After all, hadn’t he prayed fervently for a chance to prove himself to his father and grandfathers, to be as courageous as them, and to face all challenges? Surely, since God presented this opportunity, leaving was what he should do, but the anxiety in the pit of his stomach made him wonder, at least for a moment, if he were being childishly foolish.

Marco pulled on the reins and his horse stopped without argument. The horse looked back at his master and waited patiently. Marcus took a deep breath. “It’s too late to change my mind. I’m committed to seeing this through. I would feel like a coward if I gave up now.”

The soft breeze ruffled his hair as the scent of the sea stirred his senses. The sound of the dancing waves soothed his doubt and he pressed on. With the light of the moon, he could see the city of Caesarea ahead. Marco gazed in the direction of Jerusalem, seeing more in his mind’s eye than the reality of the landscape of craggy limestone and sandstone bluffs and hills.

“Father nearly died there, twice,” Marco announced to his horse. The pack animal turned his ears back to listen to his rider’s voice. “Since Jerusalem was the place my father became a hero, it will be the place for me to do the same. I’m sure of it.” The horse looked back at Marco and shifted his weight, content to go nowhere. The young man tapped the horse’s flank with his heels and took the road that went through Apollonia and on to Joppa, which would set him on his way to Jerusalem. “I suppose if you’re going to carry me into adventures, I should give you a name. I can’t tell my stories starting with, ‘One night, under a full moon, I set out for Jerusalem riding a—brown horse.’ No, that will not do. How about something that sounds strong like Warrior?”

The horse lowered his head and sneezed.

“Maybe not,” muttered Marco. He gave it some more thought and then announced, “I know. I will be the Archer and you will be my Arrow. Yes, I like that. I now christen you, Arrow, my loyal, four-legged companion.”

Arrow stumbled on something in the road and blinked back at his master.

Marco sighed. “Some arrows might be a bit dull, I guess, but you’ll do. Now all I need to do is catch up with the cloth merchant in Apollonia. Let’s hope he did not change his plans.

Praise for Quest of the Sapphire:

“A. E. Smith takes the reader on an imaginative journey into a first-century narrative. She approaches the story with a creative perspective, historical facts, and an engaging narrative that captures the reader’s attention. The drama will come alive as the sons of Centurion Longinus struggle to find their way in a tempestuous world of intrigue and danger.”
Don W. Hebbard, Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy, Amberton University

“The adventures in Quest of the Sapphire, the second book in the series (Journey of the Pearl is the first) were at times exciting, chilling, humorous, grave, heartwarming, inspirational, and hold-your-breath suspenseful. I enjoyed the book immensely—it was definitely a page-turner. On top of all that it had a non-fictional feel for the dangerous turns of nature and for the grace of God. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys adventure, thrills, and the sincere outcome of belief in God.”
Amazon Reviewer

“A.E. Smith has written another adventurous and stirring book. Smith’s novels emerge with authenticity as a result of her excellent research and her attention to details. She writes well and invites her readers to join her on one perilous quest after another.”
Amazon Reviewer

“Loved this book! Great follow-up to Journey of the Pearl! The twins were especially interesting … Loved all of the characters! Highly recommend this book!”
Amazon Reviewer

About the Author

A. E. Smith has a bachelor of science degree from Baylor University and a master’s degree from Northern Arizona University. She is also the author of Journey of the Pearl, and A Gift for Gracelyn.

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